Willem F. Duisenberg, First European Bank President, Dies at 70
By MARK LANDLER
Published: August 1, 2005
BERLIN, July 31 - Willem F. Duisenberg, the blunt-spoken Dutch
central banker who oversaw the introduction of the euro as the first
president of the European Central Bank, was found dead on Sunday in
a swimming pool at his villa in the south of France, the French
government said. He was 70.
An autopsy showed that Mr. Duisenberg drowned after unspecified
heart trouble. He "died a natural death, due to drowning, after a
cardiac problem," said Jean-François Sanpieri, a state official near
the village of Faucon, where Mr. Duisenberg had his villa.
A tall, snowy-haired man with a dry wit and a gravelly voice, Mr.
Duisenberg became the human face of a new currency after he presided
over an epic money transfer on Jan. 1, 2002, when 305 million
Europeans turned in their francs, marks, lira and other currencies
As president of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Mr.
Duisenberg steered the euro through its first unsteady years - a
time when it plummeted to record low levels against the dollar.
He also fended off calls for the European bank to lower interest
rates during the recession of 2001, which gave the fledgling
institution credibility at a crucial stage in its development. "I
hear, but I don't listen," Mr. Duisenberg once said of the pleas of
public officials to cut rates.
The euro bounced back, and by last year it had hit a record high
against the dollar, which is now viewed as the weaker currency. As
the euro demonstrates its stability, it is gaining popularity as a
reserve currency, alongside the dollar, in the world's central
"With his calm manner, he established people's basic trust in the
euro," the German finance minister, Hans Eichel, told The Associated
Press in Berlin. "We will remember his personality and what he
Jean-Claude Trichet, who succeeded Mr. Duisenberg as the bank's
president in 2003, said his death was a "terrible loss."
"He played a decisive role in setting up the monetary institutions
in Europe," Mr. Trichet said in a statement.
Mr. Duisenberg's early days were not without gaffes, some of which
grew out of his penchant for candor. In October 2000, he said the
bank would not intervene in the currency markets to shore up the
euro. That led speculators to drive the euro down to record lows.
While the currency changeover went smoothly, Mr. Duisenberg faced
complaints from Europeans that the euro had driven up the price of
everyday items, like haircuts and cups of coffee.
He was also occasionally buffeted by criticism of his wife, Gretta,
an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights. The Dutch government
objected in 2003 when she visited Yasir Arafat in the West Bank
while traveling on a diplomatic passport. Mr. Duisenberg staunchly
By the time Mr. Duisenberg was put forward as a candidate to head
the European Central Bank, he had already made his name as a former
Dutch finance minister and long-time head of the Dutch central bank.
Germany, in particular, backed him because of his credentials as an
Yet his candidacy was bitterly opposed by France, which wanted to
name the governor of its own central bank, Mr. Trichet. To break the
deadlock, Mr. Duisenberg pledged not to serve his full eight-year
term - a decision that put him in the awkward position of having to
deflect regular questions about his retirement plans at the bank's
monthly news conference.
In 2003, Mr. Duisenberg announced he would step down, and Mr.
Trichet took the helm. He has maintained the European Central Bank's
emphasis on keeping a close rein on inflation.
Willem Frederik Duisenberg was born on July 9, 1935, in Herrenveen,
The Netherlands. He earned a doctorate in economics from Groningen
University in 1965. After teaching and working at the International
Monetary Fund, he became finance minister in the Social Democratic
government of Joop den Uyl.
In 1982, he became head of the Dutch central bank, a post he held
for 15 years. He also served as president of the European Monetary
Institute, the predecessor of the European Central Bank.
He is survived by his wife and three adult children from his first